“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” – Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman, IPCC
On Monday, March 31, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an alarming report about the wide-ranging impacts of global climate change. The report revealed that climate change is already beginning to affect crop yields, and it indicates that yields could decline sharply toward the middle of the century–impacting food security, poverty and political stability globally.
The Rainforest Alliance has been working to introduce sustainability to agricultural communities for over 25 years. Because we believe that effectively adapting to climate change will require collective buy-in and support from all supply-chain stakeholders–from smallholder farmers to global businesses–we work directly at the field and farm level and up through commodity supply chains to help transform business and farming practices and promote sustainable management practices that give farmers the knowledge and skills they need to adapt to a changing climate.
As the IPCC’s latest report reveals, the impacts of climate change will be felt by all farmers and across all crops. Coffee–with its extreme vulnerability to climate change, pests and disease outbreaks aggravated by an unstable climate—will undoubtedly be among the crops most deeply impacted. Coffee production is heavily dependent on cool temperatures and seasonal rainfall; changes in these patterns can have a notable impact on quality, productivity and regional suitability of the crop. As such, an increase in temperatures, even by just 2° C, could significantly reduce coffee growing areas and negatively impact the livelihoods of farmers around the world.
There are a number of ways that farmers can adapt to and prepare for climate change. The Rainforest Alliance provides technical training to farmers to help them to better understand local climate conditions and devise locally appropriate best management practices suited for improving on-farm resiliency to climate change. By properly incorporating shade-giving trees, a requirement for Rainforest Alliance certification, farmers can buffer vulnerable crops from swings in temperature and rainfall. Certification standards also promote measures such as improved water conservation or storage to maintain water availability when plants need it most and the use of native tree species, which are often more resilient to climate change and can play an important role in protecting local biodiversity. It is also imperative that we promote research and evaluation around new crop varieties; some varieties grown today will not be productive in future climate conditions.
The Rainforest Alliance’s climate module (a voluntary add-on to the standards required for Rainforest Alliance certification) is one way that farmers can proactively address climate change. The module promotes on-farm actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase carbon sequestration and enhance the capacity of farms to adapt to climate change. By implementing the climate module, farmers undertake actions to conserve forests on their farms, adopt soil conservation methods that sequester carbon, use organic matter as compost, and prepare for changing climatic conditions and impacts by conserving natural resources and establishing emergency plans to deal with extreme weather events.
The aggregate benefits of climate-smart agriculture can be significant: technical assistance provided to 538 coffee growers in Central America, for example, resulted in the capture of more than 218,000 metric tons of carbon. That is equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately 43,600 cars.
The Rainforest Alliance is also working with coffee farmers in Oaxaca, Mexico, where many producers are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, on an innovative carbon coffee project that uses sustainability certification to build climate resiliency. Protecting coffee is an important long-term consideration; the carbon coffee project specifically aims to reduce the vulnerability of coffee farms by stabilizing their microclimate and protecting the coffee market.
Addressing the potential threats associated with climate change and its impacts on agriculture, food security and community livelihoods is one of the biggest challenges of this century. The Rainforest Alliance is committed to utilizing certification, training, education and technical assistance to help farmers mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to its impacts. By working from the ground to the grocery store, we connect businesses and consumers to climate-smart commodities that are good for the planet and good for people.